Commentary: It's all about leverage

When you read that Najeh Davenport had hired Drew Rosenhaus to be his agent, what were your thoughts? Never mind. I can't print those thoughts here because I'd like to keep my job.

For orchestrating Javon Walker's holdout, Rosenhaus couldn't win election as dog catcher in Green Bay. Whether Walker will show up when training camp kicks off at the end of July remains a mystery.

Not even Walker is sure what's in his future, at one turn saying, "I'm gonna be there. I'm gonna be there. I'll be there for training camp"; and at another turn saying, "I'm going to stick to my guns."

Rosenhaus says his aim is to sign Davenport to a long-term contract, but in this case he promises a holdout isn't in the cards.

Depending on your vantage point, Rosenhaus is either a meddlesome snake or a shrewd businessman. Either way, he knows when to pick his battles.

No matter what Brett Favre says, the Packers need Walker if they have any chance to stay on top of the improved NFC North. The same can't be said for Davenport, the talented but oft-injured running back.

"Look what happened when Sterling (Sharpe) left. Robert Brooks stepped up. We can win without him," Favre said of Walker in an interview in the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

While that's true, that was an in-his-prime Favre making those passes after Sharpe was forced to retire. With as much guts as arm strength, Favre routinely turned mediocre receivers into above-average receivers.

While Favre certainly remains one of the better quarterbacks in the league today, his days as an MVP-caliber player are behind him. Favre needs all the weapons he can get, especially when the offense most likely is going to have to carry the load again.

Take away Walker, and what do the Packers have? Donald Driver returned to elite status last season, but how much of that was because of Walker's overwhelming brilliance? Beyond Driver, the question marks are numerous. Can Robert Ferguson not just return to the football field, but can he pick up where he left off as an up-and-coming target? Antonio Chatman had a solid season as the No. 4 receiver, but can he thrive as the No. 3 guy? Can the draft picks overcome the learning curve that renders most rookie wide receivers nonfactors?

With 40 percent of the league's premier offensive line moving to greener pastures, the offense already had a big hurdle to clear. Take away Marco Rivera, Mike Wahle and Walker, and the Packers' offense looks downright ordinary. And an ordinary offense isn't going to cut it when the defense added a new coordinator but no premier talent.

Rosenhaus knows all of this. Walker might be under contract for two more years, but the Packers certainly don't have all the leverage.

It's different in the case of Davenport, and Rosenhaus knows it. Davenport's biggest supporter in Green Bay, coach Mike Sherman, is no longer the general manager. Sherman, you recall, passed up a chance last summer to land the AFC's reigning sack champion, Adewale Ogunleye, in exchange for Davenport when the Miami Dolphins desperately sought a replacement for the suddenly retired Ricky Williams.

Davenport has all the talent in the world. He's a genetic freak, a swift and shifty halfback in the frame of a bruising fullback. Davenport, perhaps because he has such an unusual mix of speed and size, suffered through an injury-marred 2004 season.

Davenport last season rushed 71 times for 359 yards — a robust 5.1 yards per rush — and two touchdowns. He missed five games due to injury, however, and was limited to two or fewer carries in three more games. That's half the season when he was invisible.

And when he did get on the field, the results were mixed. He was dominant in his only start, gashing the porous St. Louis Rams for 178 yards on 19 rushes. In his other 10 games, however, Davenport toted the ball 52 times for 181 yards. That's an average of 3.5 yards per carry.

Certainly, Davenport would have been more consistent had he received a consistent number of carries, but his body wouldn't allow it.

Rosenhaus knows these facts, and so does the rest of the league. That's why as a restricted free agent this off-season, Davenport didn't get so much as a sniff from any of the other 31 teams, even though the Packers offered him the lowest of the three tendors and would have cost his suitor only a fourth-round pick. With nowhere else to turn, Davenport returned to Green Bay with a one-year deal worth $656,000.

It's all about leverage.

In the case of Walker, if given a healthy dose of truth serum even the Packers probably would admit he has outplayed his rookie contract. It's just a matter of whether they want to open a can of worms and renegotiate his deal in order to prevent a damaging holdout.

In the case of Davenport, a long-term contract is in the best interest of both parties but it's not exactly a pressing issue for the Packers.

So when Rosenhaus says Davenport will be in uniform when training camp begins, believe him. And when Rosenhaus isn't saying a word about Walker, get ready for a game of chicken.

Huber writes for The Packer Report and The Green Bay News-Chronicle. Contact him via e-mail at packwriter@hotmail.com


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